A surprising diagnosis and a simple cure

By Ernie Williamson

The Bulletin


I hadn’t felt mentally sharp for days.


I was becoming easily confused and had trouble concentrating. I struggled with the daily Wordle.


Fearing I might have suffered a mini-stroke, my wife and I decided one evening to call 911.

I was nervous. I am already a 75-year-old paraplegic in a wheelchair due to a rare neurological disorder. I didn’t need another health problem.


I was rushed to the emergency room at the closest hospital where the testing began.

A brain scan showed nothing abnormal.


Same with tests on lungs and kidneys. What was going on?


After several hours, a doctor said they had pinpointed a diagnosis: My blood test showed an extremely low level of sodium, a condition called hyponatremia.


I wasn’t familiar with hyponatremia, but it sounded ominous. So, I was pleasantly surprised by the simple treatment he prescribed.


The doctor asked if I drank a lot of water. I said yes.


He suggested cutting back on the amount of water I was consuming.


I told him I thought I had been living healthy by limiting the sodium in my diet and drinking plenty of water.


It turns out hyponatremia is the most common chemical abnormality seen among patients in the hospital.


With that in mind, here is what you should know about hyponatremia.


(Since I am a patient - not a doctor - I will rely on information from the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic websites to explain hyponatremia.)


CAUSES: Hyponatremia occurs when the concentration of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. Sodium is an electrolyte that helps regulate the amount of water in and around your cells.


In hyponatremia, one or more factors - ranging from an underlying medical condition to drinking too much water - causes the sodium in your body to become diluted. When this happens, your body’s water levels rise, and cells begin to swell.


The swelling can cause health problems, ranging from mild to life-threatening. I suffered from what a doctor described as “brain fog.”


WHO IS AT RISK? Anyone can develop hyponatremia. In general, too much water in your body is usually the main problem. Much less frequently, hyponatremia is due to significant sodium loss from your body.


Hyponatremia is more likely to occur in people living with certain diseases like kidney failure, congestive heart failure and diseases affecting the lungs, liver or brain. Some medications, such as water pills (diuretics), antidepressants and pain medications, can interfere with the normal kidney processes that keep sodium concentrations within a healthy range.


SYMPTOMS: Hyponatremia causes neurologic symptoms, ranging from confusion to seizures to coma. The severity of symptoms depends on how low the sodium levels are in the bloodstream and how quickly they fall. Other symptoms include muscle cramps, nausea, lethargy and mental changes.


I am fortunate to have such a simple treatment. Some cases require treatment of underlying conditions and medication.


The hospital kept me overnight and I was released the next day with instructions to drink less water. Within a day or two, the “brain fog” had lifted.


A week after being released from the hospital, I checked in with my primary care doctor.


Another blood test showed my sodium level was within the healthy range.


Another health crisis dodged.


(Contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)